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Creating Big Impacts Through Community Engagement

There is a growing public expectation that companies should give back to their communities in an authentic, meaningful way. Companies are taking notice and creating programs to address these demands.

The positive return for adopting a robust corporate responsibility program is resounding,as evidenced by the reception for Panera Bread’s Community Café program, (whose founder Ronald Shaich received a standing ovation for his presentation at Sustainable Brands '11). These programs attract and retain talent, create partnerships with non-profits and provide avenues for aligning the mission and values of the company with the community.

"More corporations are already making CSR strategies part of their overall business and core competencies. They can actually maximize the return on their investments and make the greatest positive societal impact by integrating community engagement and employee volunteer programs within these efforts,” says Kellie McElhaney, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business at Haas School of Business (via Volunteer Match).

There are several levels of community assistance that companies can provide, including monetary donations, dedicated volunteer time for employees and skills-based volunteerism. Some companies create programs which dedicate a full workday for employees to volunteer, like Gap’s In Action Day and Deloitte’s Impact Day, which encourage employees to spend a workday contributing their time and talent to benefit local non-profits.

However, the key to success is to integrate community engagement into the core of the business model.  “This commitment has to be built into the company, or else it is not going to work,” says Sean Rosas, Employee and Community Engagement Manager at Salesforce.com.

There are several successful examples that serve as models for taking corporate community engagement to the next level, creating opportunities for capacity building and demonstrated impact.

Companies that are recognized for success in this area see the value in developing the communities in which they operate. Gap Adventures has embedded this commitment into the core of its business. Speaking at the Sustainable Brands '11 conference, founder Bruce Poon Tip shared the example how his company developed a women’s weaving cooperative in Peru. Gap Adventures then brings its travelers to the weaving cooperative to meet these women and purchase the textiles directly. This coalition is mutually beneficial for Gap Adventures, the travelers and the Ccaccaccollo community.

Some companies leverage their existing resources to promote community. One example is eBay it Forward, a celebration that eBay facilitated to connect the people of Salt Lake City to each other and to the greater global eBay community. Residents were asked to bring one item that helped them get through the year and write a handwritten note telling its story. These items were then made available for purchase through Giving Works, eBay’s program that helps sellers list items which benefit nonprofit organizations.

As the shift and demand builds for corporations to demonstrate their commitment to something more than shareholder returns, the caliber of community engagement programs will continue to improve and increase.


Kate Drane is the Stakeholder Outreach Manager for Triple Pundit and co-founder of PresidioSpace, a co-working and event space located in San Francisco. She recently received her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she fostered her skills and passions for recruiting, networking, community building and the power of intrapreneurism.

Kate Drane

Kate Drane is the Stakeholder Outreach Manager for Triple Pundit. In addition, she is the co-founder of The Can Van, a Bay Area mobile beer canning service and PresidioSpace, a business incubator/ co-working/ event space located in San Francisco. She received her BA in Journalism from Butler University and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she honed her skills and passions for recruiting, networking, community building and intrapreneurship.

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